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Meet Zeus, the K-9 officer keeping IU safe


Zeus stands outside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall after checking the area for bombs before the basketball game Tuesday. Zeus's commands, such as "sit" and "search," are given to him in Dutch so bystanders cannot also give him commands. Rose Bythrow and Rose Bythrow Buy Photos

Zeus sat and gazed up at Officer Ryan Skaggs with his characteristic head tilt, tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth and looking almost like he was smiling.

The IU Police Department invested approximately $12,000 in a new K-9 officer last spring when Zeus, a rescue from South Dakota, joined its ranks after about three months of intensive training.

Zeus is a 2-year-old mutt, but his human companion, Skaggs, says he is mostly Labrador and pit bull.

He entered the department upon the retirement of German Shepherd Tery, IUPD’s first police dog. Tery served for five years and retired at the age of nine to enjoy civilian-dog life.

The $12,000 covered not only Zeus’ adoption and training, but also training for Skaggs. The pair worked with Ultimate Canine, a Westfield, Indiana-based company focused on providing all kinds of dog training services.

Zeus is trained to identify various kinds of homemade and military-grade explosives. His commands are in Dutch so civilians cannot give him directions.

Skaggs and Zeus generally work 12-hour shifts starting at 7 a.m. and do everything from standard traffic enforcement to bomb sweeps for special events.

IUPD officer Ryan Skaggs and his dog Zeus ride up the escalator in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall as Zeus checks for bombs before the basketball game Tuesday. Zeus was a rescue dog and is the department's only trained bomb search dog in Bloomington.  Rose Bythrow Buy Photos

“We usually have a cup of coffee," Skaggs said. "And then him and I will go somewhere and do some training,” Skaggs said.

While he is not sniffing out threats, Zeus can often be found lounging on his dog bed in the back of Skaggs’ cruiser.

Though they have not found any yet, the pair are responsible for sweeping areas for explosives prior to large events like basketball or football games. Skaggs said if an event hosts more than 8,000 people, they will likely be called to search it.

“The way of the world now is this is just kind of what is done at major events,” Skaggs said. “Especially at universities.”

The Indiana State Police also bring a bomb dog, equipment and hazardous device technicians that would be necessary in the case of a threat to events like IU basketball games. 

The state police who attend these events not only help split up the job of sweeping the area between Zeus and one of their dogs, but also help to prepare if one of the dogs detects an explosive.

“Just like the movies, we’d be putting on the protective suits and going down and examining,” said Rick Stocksale, Indiana State Police Hazardous Device Technician.

Skaggs said Zeus does not like all of noise of the basketball games, so they generally leave or wait outside after the sweep is complete.

Skaggs and Zeus also train monthly with the Indiana State Police Department’s team of six explosive detection dogs.

As Zeus sniffed around Assembly Hall on Tuesday before the IU vs. Penn State men’s basketball game, Skaggs tried to ensure he checked every trash can, bathroom, supply closet, locker room and private box.

Though Zeus is not trained to attack, Skaggs said he generally blocks members of the public from petting the dog. He said most people know well enough to leave him alone, but not all.

“Depending on intoxication levels,” he said, “We might have a different discussion.”

As the duo swept the hall, Zeus glanced back at Skaggs constantly. Skaggs said Zeus was not looking for instruction.

“He knows where his tennis ball comes from,” he said, chuckling and retrieving the ball out of one of his pockets.

The pair also fielded questions and comments from staff at Assembly Hall as they conducted their search. It is clear Skaggs is used to this.

“What’s his name?”

“You think they can train a cat to do that?”

“I thought he was a service dog!”

“He’s my therapy dog,” Skaggs replied, laughing.

Zeus pulled on his lead as the two wrapped up their search. Skaggs said the dog knows the routine well enough to know when they are almost done.

Questions including #AskSkaggsnZeus on Twitter will be replied to in a weekly video series by IUPD. Community members can also ask questions anonymously about Zeus through IUPD’s website.

IUPD is looking at adding a dog with a different specialization to its team in the near future. This kind of training, which the department declined to share details of, would cost the department around $35,000. 

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